Old Fort Benton (Photo Diary)

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Fort Benton was originally established as a trading post in 1846. It traded with the Blackfoot Indians primarily for buffalo robes which were then sent by boat down the Missouri River to St. Louis. While the fort was originally made from timbers, it was soon reconstructed using adobe brick.  

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Typical of trading posts, it was walled for protection and had a contained a large courtyard surrounded by a number of buildings. It has two blockhouses on opposite corners which have rifle slits and cannons. The entrance to the fort was-and still is-a large gate which faces the river. The gate leads into a large courtyard which today contains some wagons and Indian tipis and provides a setting for activities such as concerts.

Across the courtyard from the main gate is the agent’s quarters and the clerks’ quarters, two story adjacent structures. The lower story of this structure currently houses a gallery of art by Karl Bodmer and Bob Scriver.

To the right of the main gate is a building which housed the carpenter shop and the blacksmith shop.

To the left of the main gate is the warehouse and the trade room. The warehouse currently houses an extensive display on the Blackfoot and the trade room allows visitors to experience the feel of a trading post.

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Shown above is an 1860 photograph of the fort.

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Shown above is a model providing an overview of the original fort.

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Shown above is a replica of a buffalo hide press. The buffalo hides would be folded, hair side out, into a three-foot square. Then 10-12 hides would be pressed into a bundle which weighed about 150 pounds.  According to the display:

“The long tree pole of cotton-wood is anchored into the ground at one end. It is lifted up at the other end with the gin pole which opens up the bed of the press. The folded robes are placed on the lower bed and the cottonwood log is lowered with the top bed of the press. With the men adding their weight, the furs are tightly pressed together and tied before they are removed and carried to the boat for shipment down river.”

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Shown above are photographs of the outside of the reconstructed fort. The blockhouse is original and is the longest continually utilized structure in the state of Montana.

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Shown above is the inside of the blockhouse.

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Shown above is the blacksmith shop at the fort. This was an important part of the fort during the fur trade era as many tools, including axes and traps, were manufactured here.

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Shown above is a tool display at the blacksmith shop at the fort.

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Shown above is a Red River Cart. These carts were characteristic of the Métis of Canada. The large wheels meant that they would not get mired down in mud. No grease was used and consequently they were more than a little noisy.

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Shown above is Bruce Druliner (Burnt Spoon), a living history interpreter, demonstrating equipment in the wood shop.

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Montana Murders

The Territory of Montana came into existence in 1864 with the passage of the Organic Act. Section 1 of the act states:

“That nothing in this act contained shall be construed to impair the rights of person or property now pertaining to the Indians in said territory so long as such rights remain unextinguished by treaty between the United States and such Indians…”

In general, the Americans living in the new territory ignored any potential rights of the aboriginal inhabitants and viewed them as unwanted intruders. One of the first acts of the newly formed Montana Territorial Assembly was to pass a resolution calling for the expropriation of Indian lands.

In 1865, in response to an attack by a Blood war party led by Calf Shirt in which ten woodcutters were killed, the governor attempted to organize a militia to chastise the Indians. However, the Blood had already crossed the border into Canada and the militia was disbanded without seeing any action. Some of those who had volunteered for the militia had done so because they wanted to kill Indians.

In 1866, violent Indian-hater John Morgan, who had led the unsuccessful militia group in an attempt to kill Indians, invited four Blackfoot Indians to his home under the pretense of giving them some whiskey. They were met by a group of his friends who hung three of them and shot the fourth as he was trying to escape. While there was no law enforcement response to the murders or any call for justice, there was Indian retaliation.

A group of Kainai (Blood, who are a part of the Blackfoot Confederacy) raided a horse herd in the Sun River Valley and captured all of the horses and mules from a wagon train headed to Fort Benton.

Chief Bull Head led a group of North Blackfoot warriors in an attack on the government farm at Sun River. They killed one employee and burned the buildings. John Morgan and his family took refuge with the Jesuits at Saint Peter’s Mission. In the meantime, the raiders killed his livestock, captured his horses, and then followed his trail to the mission.

At the mission, the Blackfoot warriors slaughtered the cattle herd and killed the young herder. As a result of this attack, the Jesuits gave up on trying to pacify the Blackfoot: they closed the mission and moved back to the Flathead Reservation west of the Rocky Mountains.

As a result of the Indian attacks, an unorganized band of non-Indians (described by some historians as “ruffians” but which may have included some prominent Montanans) attacked a small Blackfoot band near Fort Benton. They killed one Indian. The next day, they attacked another band, killed six Indians and scalped them. They then returned to Fort Benton where they conducted a scalp dance in the street.  

Treeing a Town

In 1864, gold was discovered in Montana. Ignoring a treaty, the gold seekers invaded the Blackfoot country north of the Missouri River. The illegal invasion upset the Blackfoot, and the American government, instead of stopping the prospectors, attempted to transfer this mineral wealth from the Indians to non-Indians. The illegal squatters had little respect for Indian culture, land, or lives.  

In 1868, representatives of the American government met with representatives from the Blackfeet Confederacy (South Piegan, North Peigan, Blood, and Siksika), Gros Ventre, and River Crow at Fort Benton, Montana. The reason for the new treaty, according the Montana Post, was that the current treaty needed be changed

“because the gold discoveries created valuable assets which should be taken from the Indians”

While the Montana press lauded the treaty as being advantageous to the Americans, transferring wealth from Indians to non-Indians, the Indians were not particularly happy with the terms which they had been forced to accept. While the treaties called for a series of land sessions, they were not ratified by the Senate. The annuities promised to the Indians were never delivered and the Indians simply assumed that once again the American government had lied to them.

After the treaty council had left Fort Benton, Blackfoot chief Little Dog rode into town to warn people that Mountain Chief and his band of North Peigan, together with some Kainai (Blood) and Siksika had been celebrating with some whiskey. They were threatening to attack both Fort Benton and the Gros Ventre (Atsina) who were camped nearby. Mountain Chief’s brother had been murdered in Fort Benton and his body stuffed into a well. As with all Indian murders, the government had refused to investigate or attempt to bring the killers, who were well-known in the community, to justice. As a result, Mountain Chief disliked Americans, particularly those living in Fort Benton.

Little Dog told the residents of Fort Benton that he would help in the defense of the town. Little Dog was well-known as a friend of the Americans.

About 500 warriors rode across the bottom by the fort and town and then circled the nearby Gros Ventre camp. Insults and challenges were exchanged as they rode around the camp. There was only verbal abuse: no shots were fired.

The war party then turned and rode into the town, yelling and firing their guns into the air. On Front Street-the main street of Fort Benton which parallels the Missouri River-the war party stopped and made a half-circle. Some of the chiefs rode forward, making threats and calling names. However, the possibility that Little Dog and his warriors, who were watching from a nearby hill, might enter the fray was a deterrent to further action.

Later that afternoon, the war party returned. This time they had tied calico cloth to their horses’ tails. They rode full speed, calico trailing colorfully out behind, through the bottom and into the town. Once again they were yelling and firing their rifles into the air. The non-Indian population of Fort Benton scattered, many seeking shelter in their cellars. The Indians continued to terrorize the town through the night. This event was called “treeing the town.” It was neither the first time nor the last time that Indians treed a Montana town.  

Chehalis Treaties and Reservations

In 1855, Washington Territorial Governor Isaac I. Stevens set out to negotiate-or rather, impose-a series of treaties on the Indian nations of the region which would free land for non-Indian settlement and place Indians on less valuable land, out of the way of American settlement. Stevens knew very little about Indians and assumed that all Indian cultures were the same and were inferior to American culture. He sought a long-term goal of eradicating Indian cultures.  

It should be noted that by this time, the once populous Chehalis living along Grays Harbor had been reduced from many thousand to just a few hundred due to the “big sick” which had struck a few years before.

On the Chehalis River near Grays Harbor, Washington, Stevens met with the Queets, Quinault, Satsop, Lower Chehalis, Cowlitz, and Chinook. The Quileute did not attend the conference even though they had been invited. The tribes were strongly opposed to the land cessions and removal which Stevens was attempting to force upon them. After several days of talks, the Indians refused to sign the treaty.

One of the consequences of the Stevens Treaties was war. In 1855, war broke out in the Puget Sound area. While the Chehalis and other Indian nations in the Grays Harbor area had no tradition of warfare, but tended to be business-oriented (i.e. traders), the Americans were fearful that they would join the Indian uprisings. Americans with rifles began to raid the peaceful Indian villages, disarming the Indians, and placing them under surveillance. Some of the Indians-Upper and Lower Chehalis-were herded together on Sidney Ford’s farm near Steilacoom; some of the coastal Indians, including the Cowlitz, were placed in a “local reservation” on the Chehalis River; and the Chinook were placed inland at Fort Vancouver. The Indians were stripped of their personal property and held as captives for nearly two years.

In 1857, The Northwest Coast; or Three Years’ Residence in Washington Territory by James Swan provided some description of the Indians of the Territory. He did not generalize about Indians and criticized the literary stereotypes of the Indians. He wrote:

“In all matters relating to Indians, I only give an account of those I have lived with [original emphasis], the Chenooks, Chehalis, and one or two tribes north of Gray’s Harbor.”

With regard to the Indians’ desire to trade, Swan noted that this did not mean that they wanted to adopt European or American lifestyles:

“They feel as we would if a foreign people came among us, and attempted to force their customs on us whether we liked them or not. We are willing the foreigners should come, and settle, and live with us; but if they attempted to force upon us their language and religion, and make us leave our old homes and take up new ones, we would certainly rebel; and it would be by a long intercourse of years that our manners could be made to approximate.”

The Chehalis continued to oppose the idea of an American imposed treaty with its land cessions and reservation. In 1859, a group of Chehalis killed Chehalis chief Anawata because he escorted an Indian agent to the Chehalis River for a treaty conference a year earlier.

In 1864, the Chehalis reservation was established by Presidential executive order. The reservation contained 4,225 acres. The superintendent sought to bring onto the reservation all of the nonreservation Chinook, Willapa Bay, Cowlitz, and Chehalis Indians. Government “potlatches” were held where gifts were given to the Indians in an attempt to persuade them to move to the reservation and give up their “bad habits” of gambling, head flattening, polygyny, sorcery, and drinking. The government attempted to remove the Cowlitz to the Chehalis Reservation, but the Cowlitz refused to move.

Natawista, a Trader’s Wife

American Indians were involved in trade for thousands of years prior to the arrival of the European and American fur traders. Traditional Indian trade was about relationships as much as it was about the material which was traded. In order to trade, a person needed to have trading partners, primarily relatives. An individual gained these trading partners through marriage and/or by being adopted into a family. The first fur traders quickly understood this and subsequently they usually married women from the tribes with whom they carried on trade.  

In 1829, Fort Union, located on the boundary between Montana and North Dakota, was established as a trading post for the American Fur Company at the request of Iron Arrow Point, an Assiniboine chief. It soon became a trading center for many of the Northern Plains tribes, including the Blackfoot, Crow, Cree, Ojibwa, and Hidatsa. In order to strengthen their trade relations with these tribes, all of the traders took Indian wives, thus creating a web of alliances. This type of alliance was generally called a country marriage (le marriage á la façon du pays).

Alexander Culbertson, the trader with the American Fur Company, insisted that Fort Union was a stable outpost of civilization and therefore there had to be white linen on the table as well as milk and butter. Culbertson would sit at the head of the table and the visitors and clerks would be seated according to rank.

Natawista (also spelled Natoapxíxina, Na-ta-wis-ta-cha and Natoyist-Siksina), the daughter of Kaina (Blood) chief Man’stokos (Two Suns) and sister of the chief Seen From Afar, was Culbertson’s second wife. Her name translates into English as Sacred Serpent or Medicine Snake. She was fifteen years old when she was brought to him in 1840 to be married. She arrived at Fort Union in a procession of Blood and Blackfoot warriors. It is unlikely that she had selected Culbertson as her husband: it was more likely that the chiefs and Culbertson saw this as an economic opportunity. Natawista helped her husband by cultivating friendly relationships between Indians and Americans and thus enhancing her husband’s profitable trade. She also adopted the children from his first wife as her own.

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The Blood, whose homelands are in Alberta, Canada, are closely related to the Blackfoot and were often close allies. Chief Seen From Afar was a great Kainai chief and had influence in many of the other bands. He had ten wives and more than 100 horses. Culbertson’s relationship with Seen From Afar through his wife Natawista enhanced his credibility with the Blackfoot tribes.

In 1846, Culbertson established Fort Lewis (later renamed Fort Benton) at the confluence of the Marias and Missouri Rivers in Montana to accommodate the large number of buffalo robes offered by the Blackfoot. Natawista became invaluable to this trade by advising her husband.

At Fort Lewis, Natawista had a run-in with Father Point, a Jesuit priest. Her daughter Julia had become sick and the medicines used by the American traders were not working. She turned to traditional medicine and had a medicine woman come in to treat her daughter. When Father Point heard the chanting, he asked Culbertson what was happening. Culbertson explained that a Kainai medicine woman was healing his daughter. Furious, the priest rushed into the room, seized the woman by her throat, and threw her down on the ground. Natawista, holding her temper, told the priest to mind his own business, and asked the woman to continue with her treatment. Following the traditional sweat lodge healing ceremony and chanting, Julia recovered.

While she did not speak English well, Natawista did adopt American dress and manners. At the many balls held at the trading posts, Natawista was well-gowned in European fashion and performed as a model hostess. While there were times when her taste for raw liver and calf brains was disturbing to some guests, her beauty and social skills charmed nearly everyone. Among the notable visitors who met her were John J. Audubon, Swiss artist Rudolf Friedrich Kurz, Father Pierre DeSmet, Lewis Henry Morgan, and others.

In 1843, John J. Audubon described Natawista, whom he called Mrs. Culbertson, this way:

…the Ladies had their hair loose and flying in the breeze and then all mounted on horses with Indian saddles and trappings. Mrs. Culbertson and her maid rode astride like men, and all rode a furious race, under whip the whole way, for more than one mile on the prairie; and how amazed would have been any European lady, or some of our modern belles who boast their equestrian skill at seeing the magnificent riding of this Indian princess-for that is Mrs. Culbertson’s rank-and her servant.

Rudolf Friedrich Kurz described her as

One of the most beautiful Indian women…would be an excellent model for a Venus.

Natawista and Culbertson played important roles in the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty Conference, in the 1853 Fort Benton Council, and in the 1855 Judith River Treaty Conference with the Blackfoot. While the Blackfoot were not present at the 1851 conference, Natawitsa and Culbertson helped the treaty council understand the extent of Blackfoot tribal territory. In 1854 she told the American treaty commissioners:

My people are a good people but they are jealous and vindictive. I am afraid that they and the whites will not understand each other, but if I go, I may be able to explain things to them and sooth them if they should be irritated. I know there is great danger.

In 1846, the Blackfoot suggested, probably through Natawista, that Fort Lewis would serve them better if it were located on the north side of the Missouri River. In 1847, the log palisades of Fort Lewis were dismantled and floated to the new post on the north side of the river. In order to provide a more comfortable home for Natawista, Culbertson then had the men start making adobe bricks. The first adobe building at the new fort, which would become Fort Benton, was the two-story house for Culbertson and Natawista.

At Fort Benton, Natawista’s cousin, Chief Little Dog, became very protective of the American traders at the trading post. While at Fort Benton, Culbertson and Natawista would often travel among the various Blackfoot tribes which enabled her to maintain contacts with her relatives and for Culbertson to encourage them to come to in to trade. In addition, small groups of her relatives would often stop by the fort to visit and to trade.

In 1857, Culbertson retired from the fur and hide trade as a very wealthy man. He moved to Peoria, Illinois where he built a large manor house which he called Locust Grove. In order to persuade Natawista to join him, he had to make a number of concessions, including having a tipi in the front yard.

In Peoria, Natawista was baptized as Nelly and the couple was married by a Catholic priest in an ornate ceremony that hit the social column in the local newspaper. She enjoyed the fast horses and the private paddock of buffalo on the large estate. The tipi on the front lawn of her magnificent mansion, however, did not please the neighbors.

Each year until 1861 Culbertson and Natawista returned to the Upper Missouri .

The Civil War ruined Culbertson’s fortune and so they moved back to Fort Benton, Montana where they struggled to make ends meet. In 1870, Natawista left Culbertson for John Riplinger.

In 1870, the army attacked a peaceful Blackfoot camp in what came to be known as the Baker Massacre. Many Blackfoot fled to Canada for sanctuary. Natawista also fled north to her Blood people in Alberta. In 1877 she accepted treaty status as a Blood Indian in Canada. There she died in 1893 and was buried at the Catholic Church in Stand Off. Natawista Lake, also known as Janet Lake, in Glacier National Park is named for her.

Natawista’s story leaves us with many unanswered questions about Indian wives, country marriages, and the frontier. We don’t know to what extent she was a slave-wife or a concubine. We do know that she was an important part of her husband’s fur trading business, but she does not appear to be a true business partner, nor does the marriage appear to have been based on romance. Her story was a common one during the nineteenth century and most of the women involved have been forgotten by history, and in some cases, by their families.

Hibulb Cultural Center (Photo Diary)

The Treaty of Point Elliot was signed near present-day Everett in Western Washington in 1855. Eighty-two chiefs attend the treaty conference. Fifteen tribes sign over to the United States 10,000 square miles of their ancestral lands. Each of the tribes is to receive $150,000 in annuities to be delivered over a twenty year period.

The Point Elliot Treaty is signed by nine Snohomish chiefs. The Snohomish Reservation (later called the Tulalip Reservation) is intended for occupation by the Snohomish, the Skykomish, the Snoqualme, and the Stillaguamish.

Today the Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve has the mission to revive, restore, protect, interpret, collect, and enhance the history, traditional cultural values and spiritual beliefs of the Tulalip Tribes who are the successors of the tribes which signed the Treaty of Point Elliott.  Shown below are photographs of some of the displays in the cultural center.

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The Tulalip tribes–Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Skykomish, and others-have lived along the Salish Sea (Puget Sound) for thousands of years.

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Two traditional Salish welcoming figures (shown above) greet visitors to the Cultural Center. The female figure shows an elder woman carrying a clam basket. The male figure is dressed in regalia holding a paddle, symbolizing the fact that that the Tulalip people are historically saltwater and river people.

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One of the displays shows the importance of cedar to the Tulalip tribes.

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The three baskets shown above have two design motifs that make them distinctly Tulalip: the whale and the duck.

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The Tulalip tribes made clothing, such as the shirt shown above, out of cedar. This type of clothing provided protection from the rain. Shredded cedar bark was woven into blankets, aprons, and hats as well as shirts. Cedar barks strips were pounded into soft, workable piece. Natural oils, such as bear fat, deer tallow, duckoil, and dogfish oil, would then be added to the shredded bark to make it softer. To make their clothing and blankets extra warm, the weavers used a variety of fur, such as the hair of an extinct breed of wooly dog and mountain sheep wool, which was woven into the garment.

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The drawing shown above shows how the bark was removed from the tree.

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According to the display:

“We only too what we needed”

“Our ingenious ancestors crafted ideal fishing and hunting methods suited to the type of catch and environment.”

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During the spring and summer, families would leave their winter longhouses and camp along the shorelines, rivers, islands, and creeks. During this time, they would often build mat houses such as the one shown above.

Salmon were harvested using weirs-fences made from small cedar, maple, or hemlock poles lashed together. The weir would be stretched either part way or all the way across the river. As the salmon swam upstream they would be forced to swim along the weir to the only opening which led into a fish trap. According to the display:

“Weirs were only as good as the leaders in charge of their construction. Our ancestors ensured a good catch by setting weirs according to the environment and the migratory patterns of the salmon.”

The display also indicated:

“Even though they could harvest a large quantity of salmon, history taught our ancestors the need to share the wealth and conserve for future harvests. They were careful to take only what they needed to allow the remaining salmon to swim to the spawning ground.”

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The harvested salmon would be preserved by air drying and smoking (shown above).

Foods would often be prepared by boiling and steaming. Watertight baskets would be filled with water, then hot rocks added to bring the water to a boil. Salmon, shellfish, and other meats would be prepared this way. Steamer clams and mussels would be cooked on hot rocks and covered with seaweed to trap the steam.

The Tulalip people gathered shellfish, speared fish, and caught ducks at night using torches which they would set on the beach or in the bow of the canoe.

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Shown above is an open basket which was used for gathering clams and small fish.

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Shown above is a stone anchor.

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The paddle on the left (shown above) is a woman’s paddle; the center paddle is a steersman’s paddle; and the paddle on the right is a hunting paddle.

Stone Tools:

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Shown above are some stone mauls.

Sacred items:

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Shown above is a raven rattle.